Wilde’s curious SALOME at Villanova Theatre

They only believe in things that can’t be seen.

Peter Andrew Danzig as Jokanaan and Lizzy Pecora  as Salome, Villanova Theatre
Peter Andrew Danzig as Jokanaan and Lizzy Pecora as Salome

Oscar Wilde’s witty drawing room comedies are well known to theatergoers. SALOME, an experimental modernist piece banned for many years from London stages, is less familiar, and not without reason. First published in French, Wilde’s curious piece has more in common with his classically tinged poems than the sharp dialog and piercing send-up of social mores in The Importance of Being Earnest. Villanova Theatre’s production, acted by a generally strong cast from the university’s master’s programs, plays up the stylized lyricism of the piece, though the language has been updated in a new translation by Wilde scholar Joseph Donohoe.

Why are you looking at her? Something bad is going to happen.

SALOME is based on the New Testament story of John the Baptist, or Jokanaan in Wilde’s play, (played with controlled intensity by Peter Andrew Danzig), who is beheaded upon the request of Salome (Lizzy Pecora), the daughter of Herod (Seth Thomas Schmitt-Hall), king of Judea. In Victorian times, Salome was seen as a symbol of dangerous sexual power, and Wilde’s play drips with lunar metaphors and poetic imagery.

You don’t have to find symbolism in all you see.

villanova theatre salome review lizzy pecora
Lizzy Pecora as Salome

This results in a peculiar theatrical experience. In Donohoe’s translation, if not in Wilde’s original, each character seems to speak in a different style and intonation. With the character of Herod, Wilde aims for some of the wit and humor of his better known society plays, but director David Cregan (or perhaps the playwright himself), has not found a way to meld this to the lyricism of the surrounding dialog.

These are bad omens, and I’m sure there are others I just can’t see.

But there’s something magical about Villanova’s SALOME. The stylized movements and voicings grow tiresome, but the choreography is a lyrical as the language, especially in Pecora’s aerial dance of the seven veils. And Cregan’s elegantly staged final scene leaves an indelible vision of tragic beauty. April 9 to 21, 2013. villanovatheatre.org.

Why didn’t you look at me Jokanaan? If you’d looked at me you’d have loved me.

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